The Joy of Theology

Psalm 100

20 July 2008

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service


The title I've given this sermon is, The Joy of Theology. My goal this evening is to increase your joy and gladness in worship and praise. The way I want to do this is to encourage you to apply yourselves to studying Christian doctrine and theology.

Now, my goal might sound attractive, but the means I've suggested may not sound very likely. In this day and age, joy and theology are not often closely linked.

But that's because we tend to make a distinct separation between matters of the heart and emotion, and matters of the mind and intellect. You've got the heart and you've got the head, and very often these two are working completely independently of each other.

In our society this leads on the one hand to shallow emotionalism: heart without head. This is really common, because it is so easy. We are used to having our emotions manipulated by soap operas on TV, by films and novels. We get our highs from sporting events and rock concerts. We can even take pills. No effort is involved in shallow emotionalism. It is purely reactive, and the brain is not engaged at all.

On the other hand, there are those who are cerebral, or intellectual: head without heart. They are expected to be dispassionate and unemotional. Intellectuals delight in ideas and thoughts, and are deeply wary of being influenced by feelings and emotion. They frown on joyful praise, and wince when people raise their hands.

So we tend to make a distinction: joy is the business of the heart; theology is the business of the head. And our hearts and heads are used to operating independently of one another. The idea of "the joy of theology" makes no sense to us. Which is perhaps why we spend so little effort studying God's word, so little effort learning Christian doctrine, so little effort thinking about the deep and difficult things of God. Whereas, we invest huge amounts of time in following soap operas and sport and music which give us the easy emotional hit.

Let's be honest: in church, for some the sermon is just something to be endured and the singing is where it's at. Others would prefer an hour long sermon and perhaps one solid hymn, which is more my tendency. But neither is right.

In the Bible, the expression of joy and the study of God are never independent. Head and heart are always linked. In the Bible, the study of God always pours out in joyful worship, and joyful worship is always based on knowing our God more deeply. Good theology always expresses itself in joy and true joy always comes from good theology.

The joy of theology

This is what we see in Psalm 100.

Look at the structure of Psalm 100 [page 604]. It's organised into four stanzas: verse 1 and 2 make up a stanza, then verses 3, 4 and 5 are each a stanza on their own.

In stanza 1 the psalm opens with the command to be joyful in worship: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.ref

But then in stanza 2, a command to engage our brains: Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.ref

The second half of the psalm has the same structure. In stanza 3, a command to give praise with thankfulness, Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.ref

And then again something for us to know, For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generationsref

The little word "for" at the beginning of verse 5 shows us how this all fits together. We give thanks and praise for, or because the Lord is good and his love endures for ever. What we know about God in our heads expresses itself in praise from our hearts.

This is a parallel of the first half of the psalm, where the command to know is what enables us to obey the command to rejoice.

Here's head, and here's heart [hands], and we find in Psalm 100 that they are intertwined.

If we want to be people who worship more joyfully, then we need to be people who study more diligently, who know God more deeply.

We can see the truth of this by looking at the alternatives.


There is the person who is heart without head. Without wishing to caricature too much, I like to think of him as Tigger. He is bouncy in worship, but he has no interest in Bible reading, the sermon is a bore, he never wrestles with the doctrines of election and predestination.

But there are two big problems for Tiggers.

The first is that his joy is shallow. It's all very well to be joyful when times are good and the music is playing, but a joy with no foundation will not help you when life gets tough. It will not sustain you through sickness and unemployment. It will not be any help to you on your deathbed.

Some years ago the "worship leader" in the church I was working in said to me "Ben, I've got a real problem: I just don't feel like God loves me today" . My advice to him was not to rely on his feelings that change from day to day, but to rely on what he knows about the unchanging love of God, and we looked at a few Bible verses. A few weeks later he told me that that had been the most helpful thing any one had ever told him in his Christian life. Extraordinary, really.

In Romans chapter 5, Paul says he rejoices in his sufferings. Peter commands us to rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christref. James opens his letter with the words, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kindsref.

To Tigger, none of this makes sense. His joy is shallow; it has no foundation, and is easily swept away by trouble and suffering.

To build a deep joy, we need knowledge. Have a look at how the text from James goes on [James 1:2, p1213], Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseveranceref. You see, it is knowing that leads to the kind of joy that lasts and endures. That's what I mean by the joy of theology.

But there is a more serious problem with joy without knowledge: it does not glorify God. Worship with no content does not glorify God. God is not glorified by artificial and empty passions. As Matthew Henry said, "Blind sacrifices will never please a seeing God" .

On the subject of quotes, no sermon is complete without a quote from Spurgeon, so here it is: "Our worship must be intelligent. We ought to know whom we worship and why" .

So that's Tigger: joyful bouncy worship that neither lasts nor glorifies God, because it is ultimately not built on knowledge.


Now consider the person who is head without heart, or Owl. Her book shelves are filled with commentaries and worthy Christian books, and she knows her doctrine all right. She can explain to you Arminianism and Calvinism and the importance of the filioque. But all this knowledge never makes her dance, and it never makes her cry. It never touches her heart.

In the end this is disobedience to God. God's command is that we rejoice: Philippians 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!ref

If our studies are not moving us to joy and worship and praise and thanks then we are not doing it right. If my desk is not a place of worship as well as a place of study, then I am not honouring God with my mind.

But we can't whip up this joy ourselves: we can't force ourselves to be joyful, can we. So the Owls among us need to pray that our hearts be quickened so that our feelings correspond with what we know in our heads. The Psalmist is doing this all the time. He is always praying things like, open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your lawref, and Turn my heart towards your statutesref. We cannot make ourselves feel these truths in our hearts; we must pray to God that he would give us the fruit of the Spirit, that what we know in our heads would be transformed into joy in our hearts.

If Owl's great learning is not issuing in joy, then it's unlikely to be issuing in love either, and that breaks all God's commandments.


Then there are people who profess to be Christians but neither rejoice nor seem to know God. I like to think of these as Eeyore.

This is the miserable Christian: habitually negative, always cynical. I'm not talking about sadness here — we are all rightly sad from time to time — and I'm not talking about depression. But there is a kind of person who for every happy remark has a gloomy response.

"What lovely weather we're having!" ; "I expect all my plants will die" .

"Isn't it great, Lewis Hamilton's on pole-position!" ; "He'll probably crash at the first corner" .

I've met quite a few Eeyores: there seem to be some in every church, including this one. And it just isn't right! "Miserable Christian" should be a contradiction in terms. It should not be possible to be Christian and habitually miserable. Yet the Eeyores manage it by closing their minds to the character of God, and closing their hearts to the possibility of joy.

I think all we can do is pray for the Eeyores; I don't know what else we can do. Sometimes I wonder if they are really Christians at all.

So there are the alternatives: joy without knowledge; knowledge without joy; and neither knowledge nor joy.

But Psalm 100 shows us the healthy biblical way: rejoicing built on knowing. The joy of theology.

If you want to build joyful and glad worship that will sustain you day after day, month after month, year after year, whatever life throws at you, then study your Bibles. Don't just skim the surface looking for a blessed thought and then put it aside. Dig deeply to unearth the treasure.

Make it your habit to read good Christian books: not the 90% of lightweight rubbish that so-called Christian publishers are constantly pumping out. Search for the gems and the classics. Read Knowing God by J.I.Packer. Read and listen to good sermons: sermons that wrestle with great truths. Think hard about the difficult Christian doctrines: these are in the Bible for our encouragement, to build our joy, not to baffle us.

You don't need a mighty brain to do this! God has equipped every Christian with what it takes to know him better. My six-year-old and my four-year-old ask such fantastic questions about God: but at some point in our lives most of us simply stop asking and looking for answers. We need to raise our expectations, dragging ourselves away from the fleeting pleasures of the television so that we can find true joy in the knowledge of God.

So fill your life with knowledge of God and then pray to him that the Holy Spirit would bring a spark to ignite it into joyful shouts and joyful songs, gladness in worship. Discover the joy of theology!

Psalm 100

So that was by way of introduction to Psalm 100! In the few minutes remaining, lets actually have a look at what it says. What kind of things does it teach us to build our worship of God? Please have a look at it with me.

The things we need to know are in stanzas 2 and 4, verses 3 and 5.

First, know that the Lord is Godref. This might sound like a tautology: "know that A equals A" . But actually it's telling us something very important. It is telling us who God is.

When we see the word LORD in capital letters in the Old Testament, we know that it is translating the Hebrew word Yahweh. Now, Yahweh is God's personal name.

If I said "Know that Kevin is God!" , that statement would have content. You would now know what kind of God we have: we know Kevin so we would know God's character.

Now Kevin isn't God, but Yahweh is. Yahweh is the one that the Israelites knew. Yahweh is the one who brought them out of Egypt, who sustained them in the desert, who revealed his laws and character, who brought them into the promised land. They knew Yahweh. And it is Yahweh who is God. Yahweh is the God of this book, the Bible, whom we know and love: this is who is God!

We don't need to guess and speculate about God; we know who is God. The Lord is God, and he is knowable.

Next, It is he who made us, and we are hisref. Whatever you believe about evolution, the fundamental truth is that God underpins our creation: he made us, and therefore he owns us.

It's vital if we are to find true joy that we understand ourselves rightly in relation to God. If we think that God is under our command, as most of the world does, then we will never find joy.

He is the Sun at the centre of our solar system. If we insist that the Sun revolves around us, nothing will ever make sense. Only when we know that we revolve around him — that we are captured in his gravitational pull — only then will life make sense.

We are his people, the sheep of his pastureref. Belonging to God is good news, because it means he cares for us. He is the Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. As we meditate deeply on this truth we will truly, truly find great joy in worship.

If verse 3 is about God's authority, then verse 5 is about his character. For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generationsref.

God's love in this verse is his covenant love. In Hebrew it is "Hesed"; some translations call it his "steadfast love", or his mercy, or his loving-kindness. At root it is God's covenant love for his people, built on his decision to love us through no merit of our own. And the point is, it endures for ever.

My wedding ring doesn't come off any more, but if it did I could show you that I have these words engraved inside it: "his love endures for ever". Penny's ring is the same. Explaining to the jeweller why I wanted two rings with his love endures forever was interesting! It's because I wanted our marriage to be built not on the feeble foundation of our day-to-day feelings for one another, but on the solid, constant, unchanging rock of God's love for us. Our love is sustained by the constant in-pouring of God's love into our lives: his covenant love for us undeserving sinners.

And we know that this is far more than wishful thinking, because the covenant of God's love is signed with the blood of his son, Jesus. A thousand years after this Psalm was written, a God's son died in agony on a cross to guarantee these lines: For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generationsref

There are some truths to feed our joy! These are truths that will help us to rejoice in the Lord alwaysref. These are truths that will help us to give thanks in all circumstancesref. The more we study them, the more we ponder them and meditate on the, the more joyfully we will come into God's presence.


So, that's my challenge: discover the joy of theology. Don't be Tigger (all heart and no head); don't be Owl (all head and no heart); and please, please don't be Eeyore.

Real rejoicing in worship always has its origins in the real knowing of truth. Real knowledge of truth always expresses itself in true joy in worship.

On the whole, we are more tempted to neglect the work of knowing than we are to neglect the joyful songs. So please put in the work. If you want true and lasting joy then read good books; listen to good sermons; above all study the Bible deeply.

Here's a practical application. It's small group sign-up time again. How are these truths going to affect your choice of small group for next year? How are these truths going to affect your leadership of your small group next year? How are these truths going to affect your participation in your small group next year?


Listen for the joy; listen for the things to know...

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.ref